When we’ve been empty and afraid for a lifetime, we tend to settle into established routines of Getting and Protecting Behaviors that we eventually come to accept as normal. In many cases, we don’t notice these behaviors at all, even when they are destroying our happiness.
When we’re blind to our destructive behaviors, we need help of other people to identify them. On many occasions, when I have been lost in the wilderness of my Getting and Protecting Behaviors, I have needed the insights of other people in order to find my way out. And at times my insights have been similarly useful to others who have been lost and confused.
When people are accustomed to certain behaviors by a lifetime of use, however, they are often less than grateful when we try to point out to them the error of their ways. They become resistant and defensive, and for that reason we may have to temper our eagerness to guide and instruct them. Allow me to illustrate this concept by describing an interaction I once had with a friend, Dennis.
For some time Dennis had been complaining about his loneliness and misery. Despite my describing how he could find Real Love, he preferred to complain. He insisted on bringing one woman after another into his life, and, predictably, each failed to make him happy.
Finally, after many conversations on the subject of women, his loneliness, and women again, I told him that he wasn’t ready for a relationship with any woman. I clearly described how he behaved like a victim most of the time, and I strongly recommended that he learn how to find Real Love from men before he even thought about another date or encounter with a woman.
Predictably, he was offended and accused me of being harsh.
“How many times have we talked about your unhappiness?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said.
“Oh, maybe six, eight times.”
“Easily twenty-five,” I said, “and in all that time have I said anything that got across to you the point that your unhappiness will not be cured with the companionship of a woman?”
“You’ve mentioned it.”
“But did I get it across? Did I say it in a way that made a difference?”
“No, I guess not.”
“So today I decided to try harder. I care about you enough that I’m not willing to stand by while you continue to destroy yourself. Now, you’re not obligated to do anything. I’m not trying to change you. That’s not my business. But I do get to choose what I will do, and I choose not to stand idly by while you continue to be miserable. Have you ever pounded a large nail into a board?”
Dennis paused before answering, wondering why I had changed the subject. “Sure,” he said.
“And if you try to drive the nail in by tapping it lightly with the hammer, what will happen?”
“You might get it to stick in the wood, but nothing more.”
“But what if you tap it lightly a lot of times? Twenty times?”
“You still won’t drive it in.”
“A hundred times?”
“What will it take?”
“It doesn’t matter how many times you tap it lightly. You need to hit the nail hard maybe three or four times with the hammer — really firm blows.”
“Exactly, and that’s all I was trying to do with you. I do not claim that I did this right with you, but I do know that I tried tapping you lightly with the truth at least a couple of dozen times, and nothing happened. Probably never would have.
Finally, I decided to hit you hard enough that it might sink in. I took the risk that you might be offended, and now you have a choice to make. You could choose to be offended — which will keep you blind to what I’m trying to say — or you could actually listen and learn something potentially very valuable. Your choice. I’ll be fine either way.”
I’m not advocating that we carelessly or unkindly pound other people with the truth. Hardly. I am saying, however, that on occasion we have to recognize that breaching the barriers of blindness requires more than a gentle hint, and if we’re not willing to take the risks that go along with that effort, we may not be able to help some people see the truth about themselves and find the happiness they need.
Helping other people change their lives requires real courage. The rewards, however, are worth the risks.